Strategic Factory: ‘Can do. Will do. Happy to!’
For the team at Strategic Factory — located in Owings Mills, Maryland — being an innovator in the printing industry is all about attitude: knowing what jobs to willingly and happily say “yes” to, communicating with all employees from management down, and being open to change.
Keith Miller, president and CEO, is all about the right attitude. From the time he moved to the U.S. from South Africa in 1999 to now, he has strived to build a culture that’s attractive both inside and outside, and the current team at Strategic Factory is living, breathing proof of that. Like any print service provider (PSP) that’s been in business for years, they’ve seen their fair share of challenges, but according to Miller, when you surround yourself with a team that’s willing to learn, listen, and grow, success will find you.
Listen and Change
Miller’s background wasn’t in print — his original calling was an electrical engineer. When he arrived stateside in ’99, he partnered with a print franchise and enjoyed a number of years working with that company. However, after 18 years he strategically separated from that franchise and now runs Strategic Factory, a single-point provider for printing, signage, branding, and marketing that is, by all accounts, thriving.
“We don’t really have a specialty,” Miller says. “We provide everything on the print side. The goal is to be the single-point provider for all things branding a company might need.” For Strategic Factory, that means printing, mailing, promotional products, branded apparel, wide-format, and more recently, fabricated architectural signage.
The company currently employs around 150 employees spanning 100,000 sq. ft. across three different facilities. But if you backpedal a few years to when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, things looked a little different. “We dropped to about 30 people during COVID,” Miller says. “We primarily did personal protective equipment (PPE) at that time.” In the end, those were just a few moments that exemplify what makes the business an innovator — the strong attitude to keep going. “We figured out how to get [the PPE] items during that time,” he continues. “We embraced change and listened to our customers to figure out the solution.”
Building Company Culture
The initiative of listening to its customers and being open to change as a result is just another cog that keeps Strategic Factory rolling. Not too long ago, it acquired AA Signs, a company that built fabricated signage and offered wide-format printing services, a purchase that was spurred by customer requests.
“Everyone said, why are you buying into print?” Miller says. “But I had more and more customers asking about more services, so it made sense to buy into these services. It seems like one of the first things [customers] ask for after they create a brand or rebrand … is a sign. Internally we call it a gateway product. If I can control that particular offering for a customer, we can take them down the path to offer all our other services.”
Some people call it being a one-stop shop; Miller calls it “one throat to choke — [customers] don’t want to deal with multiple vendors to host their open house, print their cards, send out their marketing gear ... they want one company to do business with.”
Miller adds that AA Signs was exactly what Strategic Factory was looking for when it came to a business acquisition. He notes that the company was a staple in the Baltimore area and their synergies aligned to accomplish mutual goals. “They brought a lot of knowledge and relationships,” Miller says. “They did my signs when I needed signs, so it kind of came full circle. We absorbed all the previous employees — they were moved into one of our facilities, with the build-out targeted to be done by early fourth quarter. We will move all our wide-format into that facility, it will be focused entirely on signage.”
Miller says there’s a strategy to both growth and acquisitions, and that strategy is, you guessed it, about getting the right people with the right attitude on board. “We want people to have a willingness to do the job,” Miller says. “No negative attitudes allowed. We build lasting relationships, understand needs, strive to find solutions, respect different perspectives, and create next-level teamwork.”
A Great Attitude
It becomes abundantly clear when talking to Miller that relationships are of the utmost importance. This isn’t limited to relationships with customers or other businesses, either. It also extends within the internal company culture. “Our culture is ‘Can do. Will do. Happy to!’” Miller states. “It’s more than the job — it’s being good people creating lasting relationships.”
Miller strongly feels it is this point that stands out among the rest as defining Strategic Factory as an industry innovator. “I think it’s the culture, the people — we have an incredible team that’s a group of committed, smart, hard-working individuals,” he says. “Without these incredible people, we’d never get it done. Have we made good equipment and product decisions? Sure. But it’s about finding great people for the team that makes the difference.”
“We want people to have a willingness to do the job,” he continues. “They follow through, are dependable, and consistent. We want team players that lead by example.” This comes full circle back to the concept of having a great attitude. For Keith Miller and the team at Strategic Factory, being an innovator is not just one thing — it’s good business decisions, both internal and external, that are based on relationships, communication, and ultimately, a great attitude.